Promises of cheap laptop computers, TVs and video games drew shoppers across Southern California out on a cool Thanksgiving evening to cash in early on the holiday shopping season.
From Long Beach to Redlands, stores opened their doors for those eager for a deal on that long-wanted flat-screen television or that sleek new laptop, marked down to door-buster prices.
About 300 people were in a line that wrapped around the north side of the Toys "R" Us in Redlands when doors opened at 8 p.m.
Hosanna Hernandez, 14, and her mother Melissa Hernandez were among a group that had camped outside Toys "R" Us since Wednesday afternoon.
"These sales really make things happen for the kids," Melissa Hernandez said.
Sal Serrano of Fontana was the first person in line for an 8 p.m. Kmart opening in Ontario, hoping to snatch a 50-inch TV for less than $300.
"It's all about the deals," Serrano said. "My best deal was probably a Xbox 4G I got last year for $200," he said as he proudly showed off his tickets holding his place in line.
The holiday season's shopping kickoff traditionally begins the Friday after Thanksgiving - called Black Friday because it's when stores go in the black, or start making an annual profit. This year, most large retailers started door-buster sales early on Thursday night. Wal-Mart began selling some deeply discounted items at 8 p.m., as did Sears and Toys "R" Us. Target started at 9 p.m., while Best Buy, Kohl's and Macy's had midnight openings.
Kmart had a Panasonic home theater at $99.99 at 8p.m. And Best Buy had a 40-inch flat-screen TV going for less than $200 after a rebate.
Nationwide, holiday sales are anticipated to reach $586.1billion, which is 4.
"We've seen this pattern of cautious optimism all year, and despite the challenges that still exist in our economy, it looks as if consumers are eager to celebrate with friends and family," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. "Retailers will continue to look for ways to stand out, specifically with attractive deals on toys, electronics and apparel, even well before the `official' start of the holiday shopping season - Black Friday and Cyber Monday."
Up to 147 million people nationwide are expected to shop in stores and online over Black Friday weekend, according to the NRF.
Social media websites have made it easier for retailers to connect with consumers immediately, said BIGinsight Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow.
"The days of waking up Thanksgiving morning to find out what retailers' Black Friday promotions will be has transitioned into an ongoing dialogue between companies and their customers starting days in advance," Goodfellow said. "Through sites like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, company blogs, emails and mobile apps, consumers can connect with their favorite retailers like never before.
Workers set up rows of barricades draped in police tape in front of Wal-Mart in Harbor City as they prepared for an overflow crowd of thousands of shoppers to arrive for $179 laptops, $69 bicycles, $199 Sony PlayStation 3 bundles and more.
Inside, lines formed in front of popular items several hours before the 8 p.m. door-buster sales began. Plastic-wrapped pallets stacked with toys could be found throughout the store. There were $12 Discovery Kids Color Me Playhouses, $19.88 folding scooters, $1.96 DVDs, among dozens of other sales.
Los Angeles Police Department officers set up a command post outside Wal-Mart in Harbor City in case any violence broke out.
Wal-Mart workers have planned strikes at about 1,000 retail locations nationwide this weekend asking for better pay, cheaper health care and for managers to stop shuffling shifts to avoid paying overtime.
But that didn't seem to be at the forefront of Paul Orona's thinking Thursday night.
Camping out for Black Friday is a family tradition for Orona and his family from Ontario.
"I've been doing this for eight years," said Orona, who had been waiting outside the Ontario Kmart for more than a day to take advantage of door-buster deals.
Kmart opened its doors at 6 a.m. on Thursday, but then had another opening at 8 p.m. and planned another 5 a.m. opening on Black Friday.
"I was in line on that side for (Thanksgiving) morning, I went in bought my stuff, came out and got back into line for (Thanksgiving) night," he said. "It's tradition."